Culture and Cuisine on the Côte Fleurie in Normandy

Peter Morrell discovers the charm of this beautiful area where the Seine meets the sea

Les Manoirs de Tourgéville

Les Manoirs de Tourgéville

Bathing Huts with Dedications

Bathing Huts with Dedications

The Casino at Deauville

The Casino at Deauville

Horse at Deauville

Horse going for its morning training at Deauville

The Winning Post at La Touques Racecourse

The Winning Post at La Touques Racecourse

Villa Strassburger at Deauville

Villa Strassburger at Deauville

The Mayor's Office at Deauville

The Mayor's Office at Deauville

The Vibrant Market at Deauville

The Vibrant Market at Deauville

Fresh Fish in Deauville Market

Fresh Fish in Deauville Market

Round Houses at Les Manoirs de Tourgéville

Round House at Les Manoirs de Tourgéville

The Comfortable Bar at Les Manoirs de Tourgéville

The Comfortable Bar at Les Manoirs de Tourgéville

The Pool at Les Manoirs de Tourgéville

The Pool at Les Manoirs de Tourgéville

The Harbour at Honfleur

The Harbour at Honfleur

Alley leading to the Old Prison in Honfleur

Alley leading to the Old Prison in Honfleur

The warm interior of the church dedicated to Saint Catherine of Alexandria

The warm interior of the church dedicated to Saint Catherine of Alexandria

The Cinema at Les Manoirs de Tourgéville

The Cinema at Les Manoirs de Tourgéville

Deauville

I was standing on the Promenade des Planches at Deauville in the Pays d’Auge. In front of me pristine sands known as the ‘Queen of the Normandy Beaches’ stretched to the horizon. Behind was a row of bathing huts each named after Hollywood greats like Farrah Fawcett , Shelley Winters and Lee Marvin who had visited the town. They were drawn here by the annual American Film Festival held in the International Convention Centre each September.

I felt like I was in a stylish black and white 1960s French movie and was partial right. It was on this beach, after seeing a woman and her child, that director Claude Lelouch conceived the idea for the script of the film A Man and a Woman which starred Anouk Aimée and Jean-Louis Trintignant.

Walking up into the town there was an atmosphere of effortless elegance, I passed the spot where the red carpet is rolled out for the film festival stars and on towards the internationally famous Casino Barrière. Dotted all around are substantial Belle Époque villas built by wealthy Parisians. The town is only a short two hour train ride away from the French capital and it has long been a favourite with the smart set.

La Touques Racecourse

A stroll away from the casino, along roads lined with villas, is the location for the town’s great passion, horse racing. La Touques Racecourse has been hosted races there since the 1880s. I watched as the stable lads rode the thoroughbreds, with coats like shiny conkers, out to the training gallops. Standing by the winning post in the grandstand and hearing the thumping hooves of horses in full flight it was easy to imagine the thrill and excitement of the immaculately dressed owners and fans on race days.

Villa Strassburger

Sitting on a hill overlooking the racetrack is the grandest property in town, Villa Strassburger. Now owned by the town of Deauville it was originally built in Anglo-Normandy style for Henri de Rothschild. It was acquired in 1924 and renamed by American businessman and horse breeder Ralph Strassburger. You can tour the house and although it has been preserved as it was in the 1950s it’s not stuffy and seems to be filled with happy ghosts. There was an amusing caricature hanging in the stair well showing Ralph dancing the quickstep with the Maharani of Baroda, it all looked very high society.

Back in the town centre around the Mayor’s office are a wealth of places to eat. I popped in to La Cantine, a charming brasserie style restaurant for lunch. It was no surprise that with the bounty of the ocean only metres away seafood figured heavily on the menu. My starter of baby whelks fried in garlic was a delight and the salmon and ling duo for the main was light and fresh.

Deauville Market

Before heading off to my hotel there was just time for a quick look at the lively street market. The stalls groaned with a cornucopia of local produce, fruit, vegetables, jams, charcuterie cheeses and fish. And of course the most famous of the area’s products, Calvados, apple brandy. You can either drink this young when it has an uplifting appley taste or if you let it age it develops very complex almost cognac like characteristics.

Les Manoirs de Tourgéville

The main reason for my trip to the Pays d’Auge was for rest, relaxation and rejuvenation. My home for two days was the lovely Les Manoirs de Tourgéville. It’s just outside the town in a very peaceful countryside setting and was originally built by next door neighbour, our old friend Claude Lelouch.

Built in traditional half timbered style it was extremely comfortable. There are four two storey ’round houses’ in the grounds which through clever design can join separate apartments together for larger families.

I was in the main hotel arranged around a grassed quadrangle, where in the summer you can dine al fresco or simply soak up the sun. My suite was on three floors, a sitting room with a massive open fire at the bottom, a well appointed bathroom on a mezzanine and a large bedroom on the second level. Each suite had its own private terrace with views across the grounds.

My rejuvenation started with a full body massage at the luxurious spa, within minutes my rapid heartbeat and shallow breathing caused by the stresses of London life faded and I spent an hour in a semi trance enjoying the total relaxation.

In the evening a drink in the comfortable bar, sat by a roaring log fire, was the perfect pre-cursor to dinner in the ’1899′ restaurant. The restaurant takes its name from the birth year of Sylvain Floirat who created Les Manoirs and its sister hotel the jet-setting favoured Byblos in St Tropez.

The chef at ’1899′ is Emmanuel Andrieu who has devised an inventive menu of modern dishes based around local and seasonal ingredients. The starter of roast scallops in a creamy sauce was delicious and the main of sautéed sole meunière with mashed potato a delight. A flinty Chablis chosen from the well curated wine list was an ideal companion. The choice of dessert was left to head pastry chef Alexander. After the meal I retired to the bar for a post prandial aged calvados, the perfect finale.

I had three meals at Les Manoirs, all beautifully cooked, stand outs were the sole, the seafood soup and a particularly flavourful burger made with Normandy beef.

Next day I considered a morning swim in the inviting looking pool but chose breakfast instead, which offered a good selection of freshly baked croissants and pastries, meats and cheeses.

Honfleur

If Deauville is the older sophisticated child in the family then just up the coast is Honfleur, the slightly raffish younger sibling. This is a charming little town with cobbled streets and timbered houses on the Seine Estuary. Restaurants, art galleries and boutiques are clustered around a quaint little yacht harbour.

It was here that Claude Monet and others set up the école de Honfleur (Honfleur school) which was part of the Impressionist movement. They were drawn to this area, the Côte Fleurie or Flowery Coast, by a combination of its raw natural beauty and its light, which has a unique luminosity.

One of the town’s interesting attractions is the church dedicated to Saint Catherine of Alexandria. It’s built entirely of wood and the interior has a warm cosy feel in contrast to stone built places of worship. The bell tower, also wooden and stands apart from the main building as there was some nervousness about it collapsing on the parishioners.

After dinner at the hotel that evening I had the choice of watching a film in the purpose built cinema or relaxing in the bar. I chose the latter, Les Manoirs de Tourgéville and the tranquil countryside had worked its magic. I was feeling totally rested and rejuvenated and wanted to revel in it, my short break had worked.

Getting to Deauville is easy, take Eurostar to Paris Gare du Nord then a two hour train ride from Paris Saint-Lazare. In the summer Ryanair fly direct from London Stansted to Deauville airport.

Useful Information

Les Manoirs de Tourgéville
Chemin de l’Orgeuil – Tougéville 14 800 Deauville
www.lesmanoirstourgeville.com

La Cantine
90 Rue Eugène Colas, 14800 Deauville
www.lacantinedeauville.fr

Villa Strassburger
2 Avenue Strassburger, 14800 Deauville

Deauville Tourism
www.deauville.pro

Honfleur Tourism
http://en.ot-honfleur.fr/

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